Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Pearl Harbor Tuesday with President Barack Obama.
Abe and Obama took part in a wreath-laying ceremony and held a moment of silence at the memorial site.
Abe said the “solemn reality” of all that was lost at Pearl Harbor rendered him entirely speechless. “I offer my sincere and ever-lasting condolences to those who lost their lives here,” he added. He vowed to pursue peace and avoid war and commended the U.S. and Japan for all that has been achieved since the end of the Second World War II.
“Ours is an alliance of hope that will lead us into the future,” he remarked.
Obama called Abe’s visit “a reminder that even the deepest wounds of war can give way to friendship and lasting peace.”
“The U.S.-Japanese alliance stands as the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asia Pacific … Our alliance has never been stronger. In good times and bad, we are there for each other.”
Obama stressed that wars end and adversaries can become allies. “This is the enduring truth of this hallowed harbor,” he said.
The U.S.-Japanese relationship is strong, but its future is uncertain.
President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to tear up the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which Abe considers to be an essential cornerstone for Japan’s economic policies. While on the campaign trail, the next U.S. president presented Japan as a trade rival and called into question security agreements with America’s Asian allies.
Despite these issues, the first meeting between Abe and Trump was positive and productive.
“[I am] convinced that Mr. Trump is a leader in whom I can have confidence,” Abe explained after a “very candid discussion” with the president-elect in November. He hopes the U.S. and Japan will be able to “maintain a relationship of trust.”
With the political instability in South Korea, the unpredictable behavior of the president of the Philippines, and Australia’s hesitancy with regard to challenging China, Japan may be the Asia-Pacific ally Trump turns to as he moves to put pressure on China.
Abe was the first foreign leader to meet Trump after his election, and he will likely be the last Obama meets before he steps down in late January.
During President Barack Obama’s time in office, the U.S. and Japan strengthened cooperation. Over the years, Japan has played a major role in balancing against a more assertive China and an increasingly aggressive North Korea.
At the ceremony Tuesday, Obama praised Japan for contributions to regional security.
In May, Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Hiroshima. Abe and Obama met prior to the ceremony at Pearl Harbor to discuss U.S.-Japanese ties.
The White House claimed earlier that the prime minister’s visit to Pearl Harbor “[showcases] the power of reconciliation that has turned former adversaries into the closest of allies, united by common interests and shared values.”
“We must never repeat the horror of war … I want to express that determination as we look to the future, and at the same time send a message about the value of U.S.-Japanese reconciliation,” Abe announced earlier this month.
During the ceremony, both Abe and Obama repeatedly emphasized the “spirit of tolerance” and the “power of reconciliation.”
While Abe is not the first Japanese prime minister to visit Pearl Harbor, he is the first to have made a formal trip with a U.S. president. Abe is also the first to visit the USS Arizona Memorial.
Abe did not offer an apology; he did, however, acknowledge Japan’s wartime aggression.
The surprise attack on the unsuspecting U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, dragged a reluctant U.S. into World War II. Around 2,400 U.S. servicemen were killed in the Japanese raid on the naval base.
The U.S. ended the war in the Pacific with two atomic bombs that resulted in the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Japanese people.
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